Billionaires’ White House meeting ramps up campaigns of four senate hopefuls
BIG BUCKS: Tom Steyer has thrown big bucks into U.S. Senate campaigns for Democrats.
By Tori Richards and Earl Glynn | Watchdog.org
One day after billionaire Tom Steyer welcomed the Democratic Party elite into his home for a $400,000 fundraiser, he was jetting cross-country to meet with fellow billionaire George Soros and a top Obama aide in the West Wing of the White House.
It was Feb. 20, and the two-hour meeting was with John Podesta, counselor to President Obama and fourth in line of importance under the chief of staff. The visit also included Michael Vachon, Soros’ spokesperson and chief adviser to his international hedge fund, Soros Fund Management.
In the following months, millions flowed from the billionaires and Podesta’s family to liberal U.S. Senate candidates Gary Peters of Michigan, Bruce Braley of Iowa, Mark Udall of Colorado and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Watchdog.org has learned.
Shaheen and Udall, who are the only incumbents in the group, also were at Steyer’s soiree.
“The whole thing is very Third World — billionaires meet with the regime and get policy decisions and suddenly money flows to candidates,” said Phil Kerpen, president of the free-market advocacy group American Commitment. “I don’t blame them for trying. I blame the administration for agreeing.”
Steyer and Soros are no strangers to the White House, having visited numerous times in the past. But if the pair discussed fundraising at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., Podesta would be violating a law that prohibits political activities by the Executive Branch. Steyer would meet again with Podesta in the West Wing on March 31, for six hours, but this time without Soros.
Two days before the first meeting, Steyer tweeted:
“What will it cost to bring #climatechange to the forefront of US politics? You can’t put a price on addressing our most pressing concern.”
In fact, Steyer has been willing to pay a hefty price.
Two months after the meeting with Podesta, he gave $5 million to the Senate Majority PAC, which supports 13 candidates out of the 33 Senate seats up for election. He had never donated to the group before, unlike Podesta’s family ($150,000 during the past two years) and the Soros Fund Management ($50,000 in 2012), Federal Election Commission records show.
And it didn’t stop there. The website of Steyer’s environmental advocacy group, NextGen Climate, which he would fund with $36.6 million over the coming months, was updated to urge voters to elect the four candidates because “in states where climate change is on the ballot, we’re taking action.” The GOP challenger in each race is pictured along with a terse bio on why they should not be elected.
“What we’re really trying to do is show that candidates who are strong on energy and the climate can win,” Steyer tweeted a day after his meeting.
In addition, the other meeting attendees, their families, or both donated to the Democratic candidates individually:
- Peters: $11,400 from Soros and family; $1,000 from Podesta’s family
- Udall: $12,000 from Soros and family; $3,100 from Podesta’s family
- Shaheen: $7,800 from Soros and family; $3,600 from Podesta’s family
- Braley: $1,000 from Podesta’s family
Shaheen and Braley’s races are virtually a tie, polls show, while Udall is behind by 7 points and Udall is up by 11.
And it’s still unclear that Steyer has made a winning bet. A recent Associated Press poll rate economic and foreign affairs issues ahead of the environment.
“The thing that is really astonishing is a lot of the Senate Majority PAC ads accuse Republicans of being beholden to out-of-state billionaires, even though they are funded by Steyer from California, who is an out-of-state billionaire in all these states himself,” said American Commitment’s Kerpen.
But Steyer’s ultimate target may not be voters at all. The San Francisco environmentalist, who earned his own fortune in fossil fuel investments, has made defeating of the Keystone XL pipeline his ultimate goal — and it’s the president who has the final word on the critical oil pipeline.
Two months after the West Wing meeting with Podesta, Soros and Steyer, Obama announced he would postpone a decision on the Keystone XL. Two months after that, in June, Steyer was back at the White House, this time for a meeting on climate change with former Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson.